Why this couple downsized to a 500 square foot tiny house

Published January 4, 2016   Posted in Lifestyles

I love stories about people who successfully escaped their comfort zones by making powerful decisions to improve their lives – even if those decisions may not conform to the society-approved way of life.

Why this couple downsized to a 500 square foot tiny houseClaudia and her husband Garrett did just that, and I recently had the opportunity to quiz Claudia, who blogs over at TwoCupHouse.com, and her husband about their decision to downsize their 1500 square foot house into a 500 sqft tiny (small) home.

Related: Could you live in a tiny home?

What happens after you move into a house just a fraction of the size of “normal” homes in this country? Do things get cramped? Is there enough storage? Is it tough to find some alone time? Good questions.

But first, the “why”. Why did this couple escape their 1500 sqft luxury home to live in something a third of the size? Because debt sucks.

Claudia and Garrett realized that they were living above their means, and their spendthrift lifestyle soon rewarded them with around $200,000 in cold hard debt.

Claudia and Garrett's small home

Claudia and Garrett’s tiny (“small”) home

Garrett described the burden of debt to me. “The stress associated with this debt and the realization that we would work the rest of our lives to pay off these debts, left us with only one option – eliminate all debt.” The largest debt the couple owned?

The mortgage. It had to go.

Ideally, they want a 200 sqft tiny home on wheels (mobile living is catching on!), but the logistics didn’t quite work out due to zoning ordinances regarding dwelling size in their area. Their 500 sqft “small house” was a stop-gap measure to get them through until retirement, where full time travel is on the horizon! In other words, this is only their first lifestyle downsize, and it only took less than $70,000 to complete.

“I knew I didn’t want to stay in our big house forever, especially because we knew we wanted to relocate at some point. That’s when it clicked,” Claudia added.

Inside Claudia and Garrett's small home

Inside Claudia and Garrett’s 500 sqft tiny (“small”) home

Next, the “how”. How does anyone blow off a life living in a traditional house for tiny house living? Of course, a big part is downsizing and streamlining. The other is working out the logistics of bringing the plan together.

“The Eureka! moment, or more like the breaking point, occurred when Claudia found the vacant lot on Zillow,” Garrett said, describing their goal of finding land close to where the couple works. “We did find the land first and then figured out what size and type of house we could put on it.” The land they found was cheap enough to essentially make it worth letting the land’s configuration dictate the design of the home. As with most things in life, flexibility is key.

The list price of the land? $5,000.

Garrett warns, “If someone else is considering building on a vacant lot, check with the borough on minimum dwelling size.” Claudia agreed, adding “…based on feedback we received from our municipality, a tiny house on wheels is considered an RV, and this was a no-no”. She recommends checking with zoning officers in your local municipality.

What is tiny house living like? 

“Life in our small house is better than I ever could have imagined,” Claudia told me, “particularly because of the decreased need for on-going maintenance, including remodeling, repairs and cleaning.” Adjusting to the new digs took almost no time at all for Claudia and Garrett.

Look ma, storage!

Look ma, storage!

However, there was some fine-tuning. For example, a much smaller master bathroom forced a change in their morning routine to logistically allow for their individual day-prep activities. They also switched up their meals so they better conform to the seasons. “We now have a summer diet and winter diet due to the ambient heat generated from cooking indoors”.

The house is perfect for the young couple. Garrett told me that they spend more time hiking, kayaking and enjoying the outdoors with a lot less house to clean and maintain. And yard work has now become trivial.

“The small house is perfect for us.  No wasted space, a small lawn that takes 4 minutes to mow,” Garrett reports. “Energy and water bills that are half the cost.  The best part is we will be debt free by Jan 2017, which means we eliminate $200,000 of debt.”

Claudia admitted that downsizing from their 1500 sqft house straight to a 200 sqft home would have been much more difficult. “Honestly, I don’t know that the transition would have been as easy if we had gone from the big house to the tiny house immediately, mostly because we still had too much stuff when we moved in–having taken a stutter step allowed us to further refine the “stuff” we wish to retain for our life today and our life on the road in Two Cup House.”

The best advice for living in a tiny house? Be proactive and prevent clutter before it happens. “The toughest room to keep clean and tidy would be the living room/kitchen.  This space has become our living room, kitchen, dining room, office, and yoga studio.”

What was the biggest unexpected expense?

“The biggest expense that we did not anticipate was the electronic water meter that we had to purchase during the build.  We were surprised to find out that the meter was not supplied by the borough.  This was roughly $1,200.” Claudia told me that the only item that they purchased specifically for their new 500 sqft home was a hand-held vacuum.

Thanks Claudia and Garrett for opening up your home to me. Have a look inside, below.

The bedroom

The bedroom

From the family room looking down the hall to the bedroom.

From the family room looking down the hall to the bedroom.

The family room and the front door (and a fluffy cat!)

The family room and the front door (and a couple of fluffy cats!)

From the living room looking into the kitchen

From the living room looking into the kitchen

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54 responses to “Why this couple downsized to a 500 square foot tiny house”

  1. I like the idea of having less to clean and less to maintain. Frees up your time for other great things. Nicely done! With a family of five we could certainly downsize a bit, but I’m not sure 500 sqft would cut it for us.

    • Steve says:

      Agreed! The smaller the dwelling, the less space there is to maintain and, ultimately, the less stuff that you’ll be able to store. I agree that 500 sqft would probably be a bit on the small side for a family of five! 🙂

  2. I love seeing inside tiny homes so thanks for sharing these pictures with the interview. What a radical move, not only to the tiny house but in terms of their overall lifestyle. Congrats to Claudia and Garrett! I also love the idea of less maintenance and cleaning. Sounds so much more efficient.

  3. […] out our interview with the Debt Free Guys and Think Save Retire for […]

  4. Thanks for interviewing us, Steve! It was a lot of fun! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for letting me interview you guys! Your drive to downsize your stuff is definitely setting yourselves up for financial independence and early retirement in short, short order!

      • It’s so funny you mention that. When we did our 2016 budget, we found ourselves in a much better position than we realized! I imagine this will be a topic of many blog posts and conversations in the future. 🙂

  5. Awesome job finding such an inexpensive lot! Seems completely functional with a nice setup. Love the front porch and 4 minutes to cut the grass, sign me up! We’ll definitely be looking to downsize next time we move.

    • Thank you! In the end, I was able to negotiate a final purchase price of $3,500 for the lot due to the state it was in when. 🙂 I can’t say enough about the benefits of downsizing–it’s life-changing in so many ways!

  6. I love this post. It’s so great when two of my favorite blogs collide. I can definitely relate to the desire to eliminate mortgage debt, but we’re going to stay put in our “big” house for now (1700 square feet). I love the advice about eliminating clutter. This is the perfect example of making sure you live your priorities, and Garrett and Claudia totally do that. (And look at their floors! Drool.)

  7. Two of my favorites together! I always love hearing your story, Claudia!

  8. Stockbeard says:

    Having lived in Tokyo for 9 years, I have no problem picturing a couple living in 500 sq. feet. My wife and I upsized from 450Sq Feet to 700Sq Feet when our child was 1, meaning the 3 of us lived in 450Sq Feet for 1 year. And the 2 of use had no problem living in 450Sq feet before that for 4 years.

    Incidentally, a 500Sq Feet home close to Tokyo + the land would probably cost about $500’000. Our 700 Sq Feet condo, 1h away from Tokyo downtown, cost us $400’000. I can’t imagine the price one would pay for a 1500Sq Feet house in Tokyo 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Wow, real estate prices sure do skyrocket when in a metro area, that’s for sure. Space is at a premium. Definitely looks like you’re used to living efficiently in small spaces. 🙂

  9. I’ve tweeted about how I’m a nut for tiny house shows, so this post is right up my alley. One random question though – Claudia is that a big blue water heater in your living room? Great post!

  10. Thanks, Steve for this post! As well as a big thank you to Claudia & Garrett for allowing us to get a peek into your home! The part that fascinates me the most is the decrease of ongoing maintenance inside & outside. How many times do people get away for a quick weekend, only to come home to a never ending list the next week or to-do items in their home? It would seem to me that there’s more focus on the activities (hiking, kayaking) and the relaxation would continue even coming back home. This is wonderful, happy new year to you all!

    • It’s so true. We’re far more relaxed now that we aren’t running around all weekend trying to get a bunch of chores done. Our hope in 2016 is that we can reserve the entire weekend for fun rather than the chores that help us get ready for work.

    • Steve says:

      This is one of the main reasons why I am so looking forward to a 200 sqft RV over our current home. There is just way more to maintain and worry about with a traditional big home. There is something to be said for downsizing. 🙂

  11. Jim Wang says:

    Much like work tends the fill the time you give it, stuff fills the space you give it. When you’re forced to downsize your stuff, you really only keep stuff that is vital… it’s a very useful exercise. Love this story and the lessons from the experience, would never have guessed you had to buy your own meter but it makes sense.

    • Steve says:

      That’s so very true, Jim – we tend to approach things based on the capacity of those things. Big homes mean big things. It’s funny how that works, actually.

  12. Wow that takes some real sacrifice to pay off your debt. I dont know if i could be trapped in a 500 sq ft house, but then again if i was in their position i would definitely consider it!

  13. Great interview, Steve! This is more than I’ve seen of Claudia and Garrett’s small house before, and I love seeing these photos! It makes me completely happy that they devoted a big chunk of storage over the fridge to board games, they kept that big TV, and they went with a big couch instead of a tiny loveseat and a dining table. I can get behind all of those priorities. 🙂

  14. Great summary of one of my favorite blogs! $1,200 for a water meter, ouch!!

  15. I couldn’t do it, but I certainly respect them for it!

  16. Mr. SSC says:

    We will definitely be downsizing when we relocate, but won’t be going tiny until at least after the kids are gone. We ahve considered building a tiny house on our lot when we get somewhere tht we will be for a long time. The thought was we could use it as extra space for family, rental, or even just VRBO sort of rental. Like you mentioned though, we’ll ahve to look into what rules and restrictions there are.
    Thanks for the looka t your place, it looks pretty well set up, and like others mentioned, I like that you still kept what’s important to you, bigger tv, bigger couch, etc… It’s nice finding balance.

    • Steve says:

      I like the idea of building a tiny home on your lot and potentially renting out your full size place. That might easily cover your costs in the tiny home. VRBO or AirBnB is another option, but those will require a little more work, too. But lucrative if you’re in a desirable area! 🙂

    • I think we’re going to investigate opening up our parking area behind our home for a tiny houser, until we build our own. With so many struggling to find locations, I think we can figure out a way to share. The best part about keeping the stuff you already own? It’s free! 🙂

  17. Mrs. FI says:

    Great interview and love all the pictures! We hope to downsize someday as well (although we don’t plan on going quite this small) so it’s wonderful to see how successfully you’ve managed to do so and hear all your tips and tricks. The house looks great and thanks for sharing!

  18. Ernie says:

    Like others have mentioned, I love seeing the pictures! It makes me think about what could be in my own life!

  19. This was fascinating…I love the thought of downsizing, but I wonder how that would be with a kid or two thrown in there? This is a fantastic way to control your accumulation of stuff, it won’t fit so you don’t get it. Well done!

    • Steve says:

      Kids definitely through a wrench into the mix, but some folks actually travel the country in an RV or van with kids. It’s tight for sure, but it’s possible. 🙂

  20. Michael Belk says:

    I thought my apartment was small, but it does make sense. Less utilities.

  21. […] off of our report on Claudia and Garrett’s transition into a smaller home, I’m ripe with enthusiasm over the clear and convincing benefits of maintaining a much […]

  22. Wonderful! Small and simple feels great.

    I live in a 400 sqft smaller house now and it makes me so happy. But I’ve got at least one unused room most of the time.

    What city are you guys in to buy a $5k lot?!


  23. Stephanie says:

    Love it! I so want to do this. Good rittance to a mortgage loan!!!!!!!

  24. […] at Think Save Retire wrote up a great piece about our small house, complete with photos.  Check it […]

  25. […] Related Post: Steve at Think Save Retire wrote about our downsizing journey (includes pictures of this house we just paid for). Check it out! […]

  26. Arlene says:

    500 sf is my goal, yours look great.

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